Using recovery modalities between training sessions in elite athletes: does it help?

Sports Med. 2006;36(9):781-96. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200636090-00005.


Achieving an appropriate balance between training and competition stresses and recovery is important in maximising the performance of athletes. A wide range of recovery modalities are now used as integral parts of the training programmes of elite athletes to help attain this balance. This review examined the evidence available as to the efficacy of these recovery modalities in enhancing between-training session recovery in elite athletes. Recovery modalities have largely been investigated with regard to their ability to enhance the rate of blood lactate removal following high-intensity exercise or to reduce the severity and duration of exercise-induced muscle injury and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Neither of these reflects the circumstances of between-training session recovery in elite athletes. After high-intensity exercise, rest alone will return blood lactate to baseline levels well within the normal time period between the training sessions of athletes. The majority of studies examining exercise-induced muscle injury and DOMS have used untrained subjects undertaking large amounts of unfamiliar eccentric exercise. This model is unlikely to closely reflect the circumstances of elite athletes. Even without considering the above limitations, there is no substantial scientific evidence to support the use of the recovery modalities reviewed to enhance the between-training session recovery of elite athletes. Modalities reviewed were massage, active recovery, cryotherapy, contrast temperature water immersion therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, compression garments, stretching, electromyostimulation and combination modalities. Experimental models designed to reflect the circumstances of elite athletes are needed to further investigate the efficacy of various recovery modalities for elite athletes. Other potentially important factors associated with recovery, such as the rate of post-exercise glycogen synthesis and the role of inflammation in the recovery and adaptation process, also need to be considered in this future assessment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / therapy*
  • Cryotherapy
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • Immersion
  • Massage
  • Rest
  • Sports*